Where to set up a CMO (III)?

A recurring question is where the CMO should sit. Here again, there is no single answer.

Article written by Vincent PIEDBOEUF

Setting up a CMO is the best way to streamline CM across the organisation. Plus, this functional group does not have to be big to deliver great results. Our series discussed why CMOs are seen as a major trend for the coming years and what configuration is best suited for your needs. A recurring question is where the CMO should sit. Here again, there is no single answer. This last instalment identifies patterns based on existing research and most important variables to consider.

Overview of CMOs and their main location.

More than half of all CM functional groups are located in a single place[1]. By single location we mean that they are usually attached to a specific department or unit, such as the Project Management Office or Human Resources, for the most part. Higher levels of CM maturity tend to translate into more complex setups. Where CM has evolved as an organisational capability in its own right (level 5 on the maturity ladder), CMOs are found in a combination of 2 up to 4 different places. The graph below summarises most standard versions:

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Also note that the higher the maturity level, the more likely it is that the PMO and Strategy units will be preferred recipients for the CMO. It is only logical given the importance of integrating Project Management and Change Management from an early stage. Likewise, change-readiness and agility are obvious components of any strategic effort to give the organisation a leading-edge in a fast-paced environment. In fact, “Strategy/Transformation” entities are intuitive places for the CMO to live, even though research still shows a disconnect between most common existing setups and what they should look like.

Pros and cons of each location.

Before we jump into each location’s own advantages, remember that any choice requires trade-offs to the made. Your job is to mitigate the risks while maximising the benefits attached to the selected organisational chart. To weigh the pros and cons and decide which direction to go, keep the following variables in mind:

Scope: if reach is what matters the most to you, then you might want the CMO to be positioned closer to Human Resources. A sure bet as both entities converge into a shared interest: managing the human capital or the people-side of change.

Early access to projects and changes: establishing a dialogue between PM and CM from the get-go is key to a project success. It comes as no surprise that PMOs are preferred locations, especially since they also have a far-reaching impact across the organisation.

Reputation, credibility, respect: legitimising a newly created CM group is a valid concern that may be answered by strategically combining the CMO with the PMO, HR, Strategy/Transformation unit or C level for visibility and credibility purposes.  

Alignment with goals: this variable covers multiple situations. It can refer to syncing goals and methodology with Project leaders, developing skills hand-in-hand with HR or more broadly, aligning CM with the organisation overarching strategy (cultural embeddedness). Combine for maximum impact but make sure that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined from the outset.

Proximity to leadership: in a word, access. Budget and resources, authority and power, influence and a lever to achieve cultural change: all of these are guaranteed if the CMO is somehow coupled with C level.

The table below presents a comprehensive overview of the benefits attached to each location. You now have all the keys in hand and tips to set up and optimise your CMO. A solid aptitude to manage the portfolio of changes in a structured and consistent way may double the rate of project success – 66% for most advanced organisations vs. 31% where CM is only applied sporadically. Feel free to peruse our extensive library of resources and follow us to stay abreast of the latest developments in the field of Change Management!

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[1] PROSCI (2018), Latest Data and Key Considerations for the CMO, online : https://blog.prosci.com/latest-data-and-key-considerations-for-the-cmo

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